In 2013, California changed how it funds schools by shifting the power from the state to the districts. Today, public schools are funded through the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF. The idea was districts know the needs of the communities better than the state, and if districts lead, performance gaps would close.
The formula provides a base amount derived from attendance and a supplemental amount based on the number of kids in need from an unduplicated category: foster children, socioeconomically disadvantaged or English learners.
On Nov. 5, the State Auditor put the effectiveness of LCFF to the test, releasing its findings on the process. Among other revelations, the auditor’s office found districts weren’t always spending supplemental funds on their neediest kids; the state lacks data to effectively measure the effects of funding; and that formulating a budget around the LCFF isn’t the most transparent nor engaging process for stakeholders.
Locally, the LCFF has generally been a positive. Alisal Union School District, with 87-percent socioeconomically disadvantaged students, used the funds to hire 13 full-time counselors and run three full-time family resource centers.
AUSD’s English learners peformed 100-percent better than their counterparts in the state or county. Superintendent of Educational Services Quoc Tran attributes some of the progress to public input gathered when formulating the budget. “We’re working together to get that authentic input,” Tran says.
But administrators also see flaws in the LCFF. In both Tran’s and Monterey Peninsula Unified School District Superintendent PK Diffenbaugh’s words, base funding remains “woefully inadequate.” One reason auditors found that schools were digging into their supplemental LCFF funds is that the state doesn’t provide enough funding for basic services.
“The LCFF is generally a step in the right direction,” Diffenbaugh says. “But if one in six kids in poverty are living in California, the state is underfunding the system helping them.”